'Give us proof of bank accounts': SC forms new JIT to investigate anchor's claims about suspect in Zainab case
The Supreme Court on Sunday formed a new joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the claims made by television anchor Dr Shahid Masood about the suspect in Zainab Amin's rape and murder case.
Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar gave the order for the JIT while presiding over the three-member apex bench conducting a suo motu hearing into the Zainab case at the SC's Lahore registry.
The chief justice ordered Masood, who was present in court, to appear before the newly formed JIT — which will be led by director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Bashir Ahmed — and present evidence to back his claims.
The anchorperson had claimed during a late night show that Zainab's suspected rapist and murderer was a member of a pornography gang, which also includes a Punjab minister. During the previous hearing of the case, Masood had also told the court that the suspect has 37 foreign accounts.
His claims about the bank accounts, however, were rejected by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) in its report to the JIT that was formed earlier by the Punjab government to probe the rape and murder of Zainab.
"Do not talk about unrelated matters; give us proof of the bank accounts," the chief justice told the anchor on Sunday. "If the statements you have made turn out to be true, we will give you the medal for number one journalist."
"If your news turns out to be untrue, [then] you cannot even imagine what will happen," the chief justice warned.
During the hearing, Masood requested time from the court to allow him to complete what he wished to say regarding the case. He went on to claim that Zainab was gang raped, adding that only one criminal had been arrested.
"They are trying to protect the gang that they have nurtured," he added.
"Are you aware that these allegations can change the direction of the investigations?" the chief justice asked the anchor.
The court told the anchor that they could order his name to be put on the Exit Control List, saying that he would have to appear before the JIT formed by the court.
The chief justice clarified that the Bashir Ahmed-led JIT would operate separately from the one formed earlier by the Punjab government.
"The Mohammad Idrees-led JIT will only investigate the murder case," the chief justice said, adding that the new JIT would focus on Masood's allegations.
The court ordered that investigations into the case should be completed as soon as possible and a challan should be filed. Prosecutor General Punjab Ehtisham Qadir was asked to oversee the filing of the challan.
Zainab's father barred from addressing media
During the hearing, the court barred Muhammad Amin ─ the father of six-year-old Zainab ─ and his lawyer from holding further press conferences.
Zainab's parents had arrived at the SC shortly before the bench began the hearing.
Welling-up, Amin told the court that the suspect should be severely punished so that no such crime is committed ever again. The chief justice asked him to have a seat before turning to Dr Muhammad Ashraf Tahir, director general of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA), and ordering the use of modern technology and devices to quickly compelete investigations.
"You are a capable person and I am depending on you quite a lot," the chief justice told Tahir. Chief Justice Nisar added that his personal number will be provided to the DG so that the latter may contact him in case of any problems with the probe.
"If there is any problem, please inform me, as well," Zainab's father said.
Punjab Inspector General of Police Arif Nawaz Khan, head of the joint investigation team probing Zainab's murder, Additional IG Abu Bakar Khuda Bakhsh, and chief secretary of Punjab, Khizer Hayat, were also present in the court for today's hearing.
Media figures appear in court
The court, on Saturday, had summoned 12 media executives and anchors to appear for today's hearing.
Appearing before the bench, Zia Shahid of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors said that if neutral investigations are conducted, the truth behind Masood's allegations can be unveiled. He noted that several incidents of child pornography have been reported.
When asked by the chief justice about his opinion regarding the formation of a JIT by the court, Shahid said "an independent JIT should be formed".
Arif Nizami, former editor of The Nation and founder of Pakistan Today, told the court that if Masood's allegations are not true, the statements he made regarding the case would be "equivalent to the death of journalism".
Anchorperson Hamid Mir, however, stated that if Masood's allegations are proven to be incorrect, he should be allowed to seek forgiveness.
"Journalists make mistakes. He should be given the right to forgiveness," Mir said in court, later tweeting that Masood "missed his chance to admit mistake and apologise".
Shortly after Zainab's autopsy confirmed that she had been strangled to death, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had taken suo motu notice of the incident that had sent shock waves throughout the nation.
The Punjab government, in a press conference on Tuesday, had announced catching the alleged rapist and murderer. The suspect, based in Kasur, is accused of being a serial rapist and killer who has been linked to the assault and murder of at least six young girls.